Many scholars and historians of World War II acknowledge that it was American materials that won the war for the Allied forces in Europe and the Pacific. A good number of those ships, planes, and ammunition were produced in the factories of Evansville from 1941 to 1945. Wartime, however, was about more than just industry in Evansville.
University of Evansville Professor of History Dr. James MacLeod published a 150-page book in early November, titled “Evansville in World War II,” which provides a history of what life was like in the city when war orders were in abundance, workers came flocking by the thousands, and bullets were the main export.
“It’s a remarkable story,” says MacLeod. “I feel like most people and certainly most younger people really have no idea of what actually happened here and the scale of it.”
And the scale was grand. By the spring of 1942, two companies were up and going in Evansville, producing landing shipping tanks in the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company shipyard and P-47 Thunderbolt planes at the Republic Aviation factory. MacLeod says at the peak time of employment, 18,000 workers were building ships during any given month. Republic Aviation employed between 5,000 and 10,000 people and produced 6,242 P-47s, almost half of the 15,660 P-47s made during the war.
“Evansville was this perfect little microcosm of what was happening all over the United States,” says MacLeod, a native of Scotland who has taught at UE since 1999. “Millions of Americans, I think something like 15 million, changed their county of residence during the Second World War. So the thousands of people who moved to Evansville were just part of that.”
While companies in Evansville were being repurposed, other changes also were happening quickly. MacLeod says there was a massive effort from the city to provide housing for the families migrating to Evansville. The result was six, large federal housing projects, two of which still are in use today — Diamond Villa and Fulton Square. There also was concern about where all the new children would go to school; many did not attend for lack of room. Factories saw many women and African Americans coming into the work force, reflecting the social changes the war brought about.
“I think you can make a pretty good case that both the women’s movement in the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s were stimulated by these social changes during the war,” says MacLeod. “Lots of people in Evansville had opportunities they never would have had before.”
“Evansville in World War II” launched at UE on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Published by The History Press, the soft cover book features 51 black and white images and is $21.99. Throughout November, MacLeod will appear at a number of events at branch libraries throughout Evansville, where he will discuss the book and sign copies.
“I think we’re at the time now where almost everyone involved in the war is getting either very old or passing on. I think it’s important these stories get told,” he says.
For more information about “Evansville in World War II,” contact MacLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org.